Issue Briefs

Following are key parts of recent OPM guidance on career development requirements and opportunities for senior executives.

Federal senior executives are expected to possess the leadership capabilities to lead in a continuously changing political climate with evolving performance expectations, and must continually broaden their perspectives and strive for continual professional executive development. Executives must specifically strengthen and reinforce their Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs), skills, and knowledge to make informed decisions and devise new innovative solutions to the complex challenges they continuously encounter. To help executives continually learn, adapt to dynamic conditions, and achieve excellence in performance, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is issuing this Framework for the Continuing Development of Federal Senior Executives – providing agencies a clear, comprehensive, and flexible structure and guidance for ongoing executive development. Agencies that promote and prioritize continued development of senior executives optimize executive engagement and performance, and research indicates training and development positively influences employee engagement and performance at all levels of the workforce.


In addition to the established value proposition, Federal agencies are legally required to establish programs for the continuing development of their senior executives (5 CFR 412.401(a)). Initially, these programs must include preparation, implementation, and regular updating of an Executive Development Plan (EDP) for each senior executive. Ideally, all senior executives should annually engage in developmental activities, and should further pursue developmental assignments at least once every 3-5 years to broaden their perspective, including the following types of development:

Details, sabbaticals, Intergovernmental Personnel Act assignments outside the Federal Government or significant participation in interagency projects, or
Rotations to new executive positions
Through continual learning and development, senior executives may broaden their leadership and technical skills, experience, and perspectives, while promoting increased collaboration across the Federal Government. The continual learning and development of executives ultimately prepares them for new and varied positions, including those of higher authority and responsibility, and this preparation is critical for the Federal Government to succeed in its workforce planning and talent and succession management.

Mandatory Training Requirements

OPM published final regulations on Supervisory, Management, and Executive Development, 5 CFR part 412, on December 10, 2009 outlining mandatory leadership training requirements. These regulations discuss systematic training and development of supervisors, managers, and executives, and require new executives to receive training when they make critical career transitions, for instance, from manager to executive. This training should be consistent with assessment of the needs of both the agency and the executive. In addition to the above regulatory requirements, agencies are further required to:

Increase the number of executives rotating starting October 2016;
Have supervisors of executives work with their subordinate executives to update the EDPs for each executive, required by 5 CFR part 412.401;
Include at least one developmental activity annually for each executive;
Ensure each executive completes at least one leadership assessment involving employee feedback (for example, 360 degree-type reviews) every three years to inform each executive’s developmental needs; and
Establish a formal Executive Onboarding Program informed by OPM’s Enhanced Executive Onboarding Model and Framework.
Agencies have the flexibility to implement these learning and development requirements, in consideration of mission requirements, funding availability, and other agency-specific requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. Is there a requirement on the specific number of development hours for executives?


A1. No, OPM does not require a specific number of hours for executive development, including for new executives. Supervisors of executives are required to work with their subordinate executives to update EDPs for each executive required by 5 CFR part 412.401. Executives are required to engage in at least one developmental activity annually and at least one leadership assessment involving employee feedback (for example, 360 degree-type reviews) every three years to inform each executive’s developmental needs. Agencies with 20 or more SES members are also required to increase the number of executives rotating internally and externally. To meet these requirements, OPM recommends the assessment of the developmental needs of agencies’ executives, and the delivery of appropriate training and other developmental solutions to meet requirements and individual needs.

Q2. Are new executives required to complete executive development plans (EDPs)?

A2. Yes, new executives are required to complete executive development plans. Each SES member is required to prepare, implement, and regularly update an EDP as specified in 5 CFR 412.401. OPM has developed a sample template which can be found at Pursuant to 5 CFR 412.401(a)(4), EDPs must be reviewed and revised appropriately by the agency’s ERB or similar body designated by the agency to oversee executive development, using input from the SES’s performance evaluation. For more information on EDPs, see OPM’s Executive Learning and Development webpage on OPM’s Federal Training and Development Wiki.

Q3. Are new executives required to have a mentor and/or executive coach?

A3. No, new executives are not required to have a mentor and/or executive coach, but OPM strongly encourages new executives to obtain a mentor and/or executive coach. Agencies may develop a mentoring and coaching component in their executive development programs. OPM also encourages agencies to take advantage of the SES Situational Mentoring Program and the Federal Coaching Network, which are available to agencies at no cost. The SES Situational Mentoring Program is a governmentwide program that provides Federal executives, particularly those who are new to the SES or transitioning to different roles, with timely advice and support from experienced executive mentors. The Federal Coaching Network includes a database of Federal internal coaches that are available governmentwide to help individuals reach peak performance. Coaching is one of the most effective executive development activities, and is particularly useful during transitional periods. For more information on these two programs and your agency’s point of contact, please email

Q4. Can agencies require a continued service agreement for executive development programs?

A4. Agencies have the discretion on whether to require a continued service agreement (CSA) for executive development, except agencies may not require a CSA for the Federally-mandated portions of the program. For more information on CSAs, see the OPM Fact Sheet on Continuing Service Agreements on OPM’s Training and Development Policy Webpage.


Q5. Executives are required to participate in at least one developmental activity each year. How should agencies define “developmental activity?”

A5. A developmental activity is any learning intervention or work experience that provides exposure to different leadership experiences and perspectives to promote personal and professional growth and development. As outlined in OPM’s Executive Development Best Practices Guide, individuals may learn and develop in a variety of ways. Learning and development can occur on the job and be experiential in nature or it could occur in the form of meaningful relationships, coaching and feedback, or formal training. OPM’s Executive Development Best Practices guide outlines a broad set of developmental activities that agencies and senior executives can consider.

Q6: How are rotations defined? Do reassignments count? What about details?

A6: A rotation is defined as, “a development process, involving movement to another position or an assignment that broadens the executive’s knowledge, skill and experience in order to improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration.” Rotations should be a minimum of 120 consecutive calendar days, including to different departments, agencies, subcomponents, functional areas, sectors, or non-Federal partners. Agencies are encouraged to take advantage of existing authorities, such as the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) and Sabbatical authorities, to facilitate mobility. OPM released guidance on January 29, 2016 that clarifies the requirement to increase executive rotations (please see

Q7. How long must an executive have been appointed in the Senior Executive Service before they are eligible for a sabbatical?

A7. Section 3396(c)(2) of title 5 stipulates conditions in which career senior executives may participate in sabbaticals:

Career appointees must complete seven years of service in SES positions or equivalent civil service positions (i.e., grade level above GS-15 or equivalent), and at least two of the seven years specifically must be in the SES;

The appointee cannot be eligible for voluntary (optional) retirement at the time the sabbatical begins; and

A sabbatical may not be granted to the same individual more than once in a 10-year period.

Agency heads may grant sabbaticals for up to 11 months to career appointees for full-time study or uncompensated work experience (5 U.S.C. 3396(c)). The sabbatical must contribute to the executive’s development and effectiveness. Sabbaticals can broaden professional skills and provide an opportunity for personal growth.


Q8: How often are senior executives required to rotate?

A8: No specific requirement exists for the frequency of senior executive rotations. When selecting an executive for a rotation, an agency should consider the following: agency priorities; needs identified in existing agency succession and hiring plans; recommendations from the agency’s annual talent review; the Federal Government’s interest in cultivating generalist executives with broad and diverse experiences who can lead in a variety of organizations; and individual SES needs included in each executive’s EDP.

Q9. If an individual is new to the Federal Government and was an executive in another organization, can he/she opt out of all or some of the new executive training?

A9. Individuals new to the Federal Government who previously served as executives in another organization must still receive required executive training within their first year of appointment. Agencies may decide if these individuals should complete the entire new executive training program or only the parts of the program required by 5 CFR part 412.